There I sat Monday morning in Room 406 of the Coverdell Legislative Office Building, shell-shocked and genuinely horrified at the brazen display of petty childishness that I had just witnessed.
Representative Ed Setzler’s HB 958, “The Maternity Supportive Housing Act”, was heard in the House Juvenile Justice Committee earlier this week. As is the case with every proposed bill, HB 958 has the potential to become State Law if it makes it through the legislative process. (If you’re not familiar with how a bill becomes a law, SchoolHouse Rock has a very catchy and informative song that I’d highly recommend).
Representative Setzler had not even begun to present the bill when 5 of the committee members simply left the room.
They just got up and LEFT!
An exodus of adult-sized toddlers fleeing from their responsibilities – their only intent was to leave so few committee members that a vote could not be held, thereby preventing the bill from making it out of the committee before Crossover Day. Let there be no doubt, this was a concerted and intentional effort to a) send a huge ‘F—You’ to Representative Setzler and b) kill this bill where it stood.
Well because they don’t like him, that’s why. Not because they had any concerns about how the bill would impact their district. Nope. They just don’t like the Representative sponsoring the bill, so they attempted to sabotage the entire process.
This sort of behavior is disheartening and discouraging in its own right; but it is especially heartbreaking when good bills are caught as collateral damage in a war that has nothing to do with their substance.
This particular bill seeks to provide more avenues for non-profit organizations to provide homes for pregnant women and new mothers who otherwise would have nowhere else to go. Not only would this bill allow for more options for these women, it would also extend the amount of time a woman and her newborn are able to stay in that home. The current guidelines state that a woman has just 8 weeks after giving birth to figure something out before she is essentially tossed out; HB 958 extends that time to 18 months – which gives the new mother time to recover, find/return to a job, learn essential skills for leading a family and running a household, and the support she needs while adjusting to motherhood.
While there are maternity homes in Georgia, the demand is FAR greater than the supply. Women are being turned away, hopeless with nowhere to go, far too often for a state that just last year passed The Heartbeat Bill. In order to actually build a culture of Life – one where women don’t feel coerced into choosing abortion – we have to commit to helping women when they do choose life. Empowering them to choose life and equipping them with the skills and resources they need to succeed and thrive after doing so.
I was turned away by a maternity home when I was 15 and pregnant. It was already my last option or hope for a roof over my head at all, and being told “no, sorry, we can’t take you.” was a heavy blow. I spent the next several months in a whirlwind of homelessness, sleeping on friends/family member’s couches, stealing money and food out of necessity, selling things that no person should be able to purchase.
When those 5 committee members got up and walked out of that committee room, they walked out on girls just like me.
Our elected officials must remember and consider that the bills they see everyday aren’t just words on a page and that voting on future law is not just another day at work. Real people with real struggles could be made or broken by bills like these, and they deserve to be fairly considered. This particular bill affects women who are or will be in the same shoes I once wore, and they deserve to be put before political games.
Regardless of the topic, substance, or sponsor of ANY proposed bill – every single representative assigned to the committee hearing it owes a DUTY to the people of his/her district to at least READ and HEAR that bill and to make every good faith effort in deciding whether the best interests of their district would be well-served or harmed by it, and then cast votes accordingly.
To Representatives Shelly Hutchinson, Erica Thomas, Dar’Shun Kendrick, and Pam Dickenson – on behalf of Georgia voters, I have only this to say:
You were elected to represent the people of your district. You made a promise to serve the people who voted for you and to set aside your personal feelings about your ‘enemies’ across the aisle. You were called to reach across that aisle, even and especially when you don’t want to, in your efforts to represent and protect the people who trusted you enough to send you as their missive to our State Capitol.
Your behavior Monday was so far beneath your profession, it is embarrassing.
You should be ashamed of yourselves.
Your constituents don’t care who proposes a bill. They care how it affects them. And so should you.
Don’t lose sight of why you started because of political games. Don’t let the price tag of petty politics be the very people you swore to represent.